Shooting Star

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Sara felt the cold crawling up her shoulder blades. She drew the shawl closer around her body. Her fingers were numb, her feet freezing, but there was something about standing out in the night even in this weather. A stray dog howled down the alley somewhere. Vehicles whooshed past on the street, and up here they sounded like a distant dream. Her breath fogged just so, something she hadn’t experienced in a few years. Foggy breaths during the days were a thing of dreams now; it never got that cold here anymore.

But the prettiest thing was the sky, clear and inky black, dotted with glittery stars and the big silvery sequin on the side. She blew out another breath that almost fogged up the glasses perched on the bridge of her nose.

In the absence of huge buildings, Sara remembered, in the village without electricity, the stars looked as magnificent as she’d ever seen them. But, despite their seven-floor building being humbled by the fourteen-floor complex in front, Sara felt a sense of safety emanating from it.

All around her, quiet reigned. This was the realm she needed to be in.

She closed her eyes and tried to soak up the calm, to memorize its melody with all her heart. She couldn’t afford to escape like this every time it got too chaotic in the house. The cool air kept her nose cold and made her eyes drowsy. She imagined the moon behind her eyelids, and more stars sparkling than she’d ever seen at once.

The soft crunch of a footstep made her start. Her eyes shot open, and she eyed the steel door to the stairwell with a burgeoning sense of frustration and despair.

Just when she was calming down too. The universe was probably conspiring against her.

The figure at the doorway stopped when she moved. He seemed familiar. “Sorry,” he said after a moment of hesitation. “Didn’t realize anyone would want to be up here with this weather.”

Sara recognized the voice. It was Rafi, the boy from the flat across from hers. They’d met a couple of months after she’d moved in during the New Years Eve party the flat owners threw. He was about a year older than her, and an aspiring artist. They’d made friends as soon as they started talking about their own crafts.

“Oh,” she sighed. “It’s you.”

“Sara?”

She hummed, and he made his way toward her.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you,” he said, leaning against the railing a few feet to her right. She could see the fog of his breath hitting the palms of his hands. He rubbed them together, and then buried them in the pockets of his shiny black leather jacket.

She snorted. “We talk every day,” she said.

The smile on his face was almost automatic. “Yeah,” he said, “on facebook. But it really has been a while since I saw you.”

She rolled her eyes. “Last week, in the lobby downstairs.”

“That was barely a glimpse.”

Sara shrugged and looked up at the sky again. The deep breath she released threatened to fog up her glasses again. She was just about to close her eyes, when Rafi spoke.

“So, why are you up here in the open freezer?”

Sara almost groaned. She turned it into a sigh instead. “Needed some quiet.” From the corner of her eyes, she saw his expectant expression wither when she didn’t offer an explanation.

“Chaos?” he asked.

She nodded. “What about you, Mr. Artist?” she said, inclining her head a bit to look at him.

He chuckled at the nickname. “That’s so generic,” he said, a mischievous edge to his voice, “Miss Writer.”

“That isn’t any better,” she replied, giggling. “Aren’t your ears cold?”

His hands went up to touch them. “You’re right.” He fumbled to pull the hood of the jacket around his head. “I need some inspiration,” he said. “All my works in progress feel monotonous, at the moment. I need something new.” He looked up, and the moonbeam illuminated his entire face. She’d never paid much attention before, but now she couldn’t look away. The line of his forehead, his nose, his jaw. A small stubble sat on his chin; he hadn’t shaved in a few days.

He turned to her again, when he noticed her looking. “I feel the same way,” she said hurriedly. “It’s like I’ve lost the fuel to go on with them.”

He held her gaze for a few intense moments before nodding. “It’d be a pity if you can’t finish them, though,” he said, the joking tone slipping back in place. “Because of frozen fingers or a runny nose. They have so much potential.”

“You’re one to talk. Don’t you need your fingers to draw?”

He chuckled again. They settled into the quietness, in the comfortable companionship that didn’t require words. Sara’s eyes caught the twinkle of a star, shooting in a rapid arch, as if a kid had thrown it like they would a ball.

“Did you see that?” they said simultaneously. And then simultaneously fell into a fit of laughter.

“Hey,” Rafi said when they’d calmed down. “Did you watch Monpura?”

She nodded, the smile refusing to leave her face.

“I’ve been trying to sing a few songs from it,” he said, excitement and nervousness shining in his eyes. “Want to hear?”

She raised an eyebrow. “You can sing?”

His hand went up to scratch the back of his neck, but fell back down when it realized it couldn’t do that over the hood. “I’m not good,” he said quietly, “just, trying it out.”

She knew he was lying. If it wasn’t good enough to at least commend, he wouldn’t show it to anyone. Let alone her. She was just a neighbor. She nodded, and he began to sing.

His voice was smooth. She had expected it to be this good. He hit the right notes at the right time, and it had been so long since she’d heard the song, that she could feel the notes reverberating inside her. She hummed along. It was a song about love and letting go, about the pain of losing the loved one. The original had been practiced, orchestrated, professional. Rafi’s voice was raw with emotion, as if he’d experienced the feelings himself.

“Maybe you should audition for Bangladeshi Idol instead of drawing your life away,” she said when the song was over.

He shook his head. “Side hobby,” he said. “Drawing is my life.”

She smiled. “I know.”

“You’re not too bad, either,” he said, trying to warm up his nose by breathing into his hands.

Sara shook her head in exasperated amusement. She hadn’t even sung a word, only hummed along a few strains. Taking a deep breath, she looked up at the sky once more. Another shooting star caught her eye. She almost didn’t see it.

“I’m wondering if I should bring up the belief about wishing on shooting starts,” Rafi said, all hints of playfulness now gone from his tone, “but it’s just superstition.”

“Yeah.”

“Maybe you could write vignettes,” he said, “instead of entire stories all the time.”

Her eyes widened as her brain registered what he’d just suggested. That was it. The solution to her problem. Why hadn’t she thought of it before? She felt like laughing at herself. She felt like running downstairs and taking up her pen right now. But she had something to tell him as well.

“Maybe you could sketch, and leave them as such,” she said, unable to keep the excitement from her voice, “instead of coloring everything you draw.”

He turned to her wide-eyed. “You’re right,” he breathed. Big smiles broke out on both their faces.

Sara pushed herself off the ledge first, her eyes on him the whole time. “Coffee will probably help with that,” she said, “in the meantime, let’s get our brains downstairs.” As they made their way to the stairwell, and then down toward their floor, Sara in front and Rafi behind, she realized that a few minutes with him was what she’d needed. Not in the chaos of her house, or at her university between classes, but in the quiet, dark, where only they could hear each others’ voices.

The shooting stars probably helped a bunch.

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